Media coverage and public reaction to a celebrity cancer diagnosis

J Public Health (Oxf). 2011 Mar;33(1):80-5. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdq052. Epub 2010 Aug 2.


Background: Celebrity diagnoses can have important effects on public behaviour. UK television celebrity Jade Goody died from cervical cancer in 2009. We investigated the impact of her illness on media coverage of cervical cancer prevention, health information seeking behaviour and cervical screening coverage.

Methods: National UK newspaper articles containing the words 'Jade Goody' and 'cancer' were examined for public health messages. Google Insights for Search was used to quantify Internet searches as a measure of public health information seeking. Cervical screening coverage data were examined for temporal associations with this story.

Results: Of 1203 articles, 116 (9.6%) included a clear public health message. The majority highlighted screening (8.2%). Fewer articles provided advice about vaccination (3.0%), number of sexual partners (1.4%), smoking (0.6%) and condom use (0.4%). Key events were associated with increased Internet searches for 'cervical cancer' and 'smear test', although only weakly with searches for 'HPV'. Cervical screening coverage increased during this period.

Conclusion: Increased public interest in disease prevention can follow a celebrity diagnosis. Although media coverage sometimes included public health information, articles typically focused on secondary instead of primary prevention. There is further potential to maximize the public health benefit of future celebrity diagnoses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Famous Persons*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination / methods*
  • Internet
  • Mass Media*
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Public Health*
  • Social Perception*
  • United Kingdom
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control